We Stonewall participants are getting up in years, and there aren’t many of us left. I’m one of the youngest still around; therefore, over the last few weeks, I’ve done many interviews, speaking gigs, parades, panels and even a portrait shoot.
What’s great is that our community is getting in touch with its history and the spirit of fighting back during this anniversary of Stonewall. At almost every speaking gig, I’m asked: “Why don’t we know more about that radical period from Stonewall to the first Gay Pride?”
The answer might be hard to learn.
The privileged in our community didn’t like those of us who created Gay Liberation Front from the ashes of Stonewall, and it’s the privileged who write history. They didn’t like us because we demanded that our movement be nuanced and diverse, not singular and white.
GLF was the first inclusive organization in our community, and the privileged did not — and still do not — like those groups that wanted to include and highlight people of color, trans people and youth. GLF highlighted all of them, and the privileged certainly did not like our politic, which was to take direct action in the fight against injustice — just like the black, Hispanic and women’s communities had done. We joined them, arm in arm.
That first inclusive, in-your-face year after Stonewall is why 1969 was the last year of the July 4 “Days of Remembrance” at Independence Hall. Our community was trying to evolve and better understand ourselves in a fight for equality. This is why we now have Gay Pride.
The people who didn’t want a diverse, out-loud community wanted to hold another July 4 picket in 1970, and with the same old dress code. But Craig Rodwell, Ellen Broidy, Linda Rhodes and Fred Sargent said no, we’re changing that tune — and, rather than white men in suits and white women in dresses, we’ll have drag queens, people of color and youth proclaiming Gay Pride.
GLF championed another movement. We wanted to work with other social-justice groups. This was 1969. The world was all about rebelling. Why should we not be part of that rebellion?
And guess what happened when we included other people and began to work with other groups?
Our community grew exponentially.
For context, Philly pickets had less than 100 people every year. The members of GLF — who created a diverse, inclusive and more politically connected community — worked, volunteered and became grand marshals of that first Gay Pride.
That year, thousands marched, and it launched the worldwide phenomenon we now call Gay Pride. The parade was borne from the grassroots outreach and inclusive community that GLF created. That’s why we celebrate Pride today. We became a community that reached out to all.
Don’t misunderstand me: We owe a lot to the bravery of those who came before us. But those same privileged people who wanted suits and dresses to represent us also tried to erase our history. Those who weren’t white and cisgendered were erased from history or their accomplishments minimized.
Example: A Dewey’s Restaurant demonstration was led by trans people; The Comptons riots, also trans people. What about Randy Wicker, the first picketer in 1964 — remember him? What about Harry Hay, the actual founder of Mattachine? He was a white man, but his politics were too radical because he was a Radical Faerie. Then there was the Black Cat in Los Angeles — but, for some reason, the only events that were promoted were those Remembrance Days.
Why is that?
Because if it wasn’t white and politically correct (as in, conservative) and people weren’t wearing the proper attire to give the “right” image, it was not important. Ultimately, those in charge were unable to create a sustained movement, and the pickets died after the birth of GLF.
This column is an invitation to historians and media to get it right. We need to be honest about our history so we can move forward with Pride. So that, as we celebrate Stonewall 50 this year, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of this community becoming diversified and inclusive and reaching out to do intersectional work.
Let’s not forget that “politically incorrect” can mean in-your-face — and our faces are those of trans people, people of color and our LGBT youth. Happy Stonewall 50.